3 South Dakota Sioux Tribes File New CARES Act Lawsuit

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier commented today on Native America Calling about ANCs formed through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971: “[T]hese corporations really just came about, and the way I understand them, they’re for profit. And right now, the needs of the people should come before profit.” ANCs contend: Through the ANCSA, they are responsible for providing programs and services to their shareholders, Alaska Natives — much in the same manner as Tribal governments.

While 11 Tribes are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to prevent the dissemination of money to Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) from the CARES Act’s $8 billion Tribal set aside, yet another lawsuit of the same volition was filed yesterday.  

READ MORE: Tribal CARES Money Delayed as Lawsuit Pends to Bar ANCs From Funding 

Three South Dakota Tribes — the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe — filed the second complaint, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in federal district court to likewise prevent funds from going to ANCs.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe et al v. Mnuchin states: “The effect of the Defendant’s illegal appropriation of money away from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe threatens imminent bodily and existential harm to the tens of thousands of tribal members now living on both reservations. There are simply not enough beds, not enough ventilators, not enough medical staff, and not enough food for the tribes to handle even a small outbreak without dire consequences.”

The three Sioux Tribes argue that ANCs don’t employ a substantial number of Tribal citizens to merit the funds, and that their status as private corporations invalidates their inclusion in the $8 billion set aside. 

The motion highlights the discrepancy between ANC and Sioux Tribes’ expenditures: “By way of example, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, which encompasses Barrow and Point Hope, Alaska, claimed 13,021 members, 4,094,101 acres of the land base, 12,146 employees, and reported $3,706,885,000.00 in total expenditures for the last fiscal year. By contrast, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has roughly 22,000 members, 2.8 million acres, nearly 900 employees, and approximately $112,000,000 in total expenditures for the last fiscal year, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe has roughly 35,600 members, 1.26 million acres, 800 employees, and similar total expenditures.” 

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier expressed his perspective today on Native American Calling: 

“In the Great Plains, and especially in the Dakotas, you look at Census data, and we’re the poorest counties in the United States. This potentially could be a good opportunity to allow us to flourish for a little bit, maybe even start making progressive movements for self-sufficiency and prosperity. …The fact that it’s been mentioned that these Native corporations are state-chartered and would be eligible for some of this funding… we have no ill feelings towards the Alaska Natives themselves. I feel that their villages do need help. But I don’t think these corporations should receive any funding.” 

 

Chairman Frazier added: “…[T]hese corporations really just came about, and the way I understand them, they’re for profit. And right now, the needs of the people should come before profit. …[M]any of us have treaties … from way back with the government. I look at it like this — this is the first time that the government is even taking a step towards fulfilling some of [those] treaty responsibilities.”

 

He continued: “In reality, in the Great Plains, we have unemployment from 85 to 90% on every reservation, and every day we fear struggles. …[W]e will continue to make every effort to try to improve the lives of our people. …[I]f these federal dollars are aimed at federally recognized Tribes, then they should be ineligible,” Frazier said of ANCs. 

Big Fire Law & Policy Group is representing the Cheyenne River Sioux; the Native American Relief Fund (NARF), the Rosebud Sioux Tribe; and the Oglala Sioux Tribe is leveraging its own Tribal legal department.

READ MORE: Lance Morgan Starts Big Fire Law Firm Championing Tribal Rights and Tribal Economies 

While most ANC response thus far has pertained to Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin, it stands to reason that their message would remain consistent. 

Chugach Alaska Corporation stated of the first complaint filed in federal district court by 11 Tribes: 

“This action by a handful of misguided tribes is disheartening, and only serves to fracture what should be a united common purpose: To prevent COVID-19 from having a disproportionate impact on our vulnerable indigenous communities and families. Further, this legal complaint may delay the process of allocating and distributing funds, which will only serve to harm our communities.”

Chugach Chairman of the Board and Interim President and CEO Sheri Buretta stated: “We believe that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ which is why Chugach supports relief funding for all vulnerable populations and indigenous communities across the nation. We share a common goal with the Lower 48 tribes to ensure our communities overcome and continue to thrive through adversity, and we will continue to advocate on their behalf. We applaud Congress and Secretary Sweeney for doing the right thing by acting quickly to provide critical aid during this crisis.” 

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